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Months of Meryl: THE RIVER WILD

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Box Office: Elle Fanning Ascends and 8 More Notes on "Super 8" 

It was a debutante ball or a "Sweet 13", if you will, for Elle Fanning at the Box Office this weekend. J.J. Abrams Super 8, an attempt to recapture Spielbergian 80s sci-fi glory, opened larger than expected, and Elle's star continues to rise. Are you newly won over?

"SuperElle" © Nathaniel R
A HUGE week in the Fanning household this has been, eh? Dakota graduated from high school, became the new face of "Oh Lola" and younger sister Elle starred in a #1 hit, following in big sister's footsteps still (Dakota's already done the #1 weekends with Twilight: New Moon and War of the Worlds... which Super 8 bears more than a little resemblance too with its sinister alien antics, great build up and then strangely lame final act. "Uh, we have to wrap this up now so... THIS"

I meant to write a proper review - sorries! -- but instead you get list/notes. MINOR SPOILERS

  • first 45 minutes pretty wonderful, fun period work, enjoyable inside-moviemaking jokes for nerds.
  • Elle Fanning's "acting" scene in the movie within the movie (an amateur zombie film) before the cargo crash is awesome. The extra, out of focus in the background, totally forgetting his business to stare at her ? Hilarious/perfect.
  • That EPIC cargo crash is the first sign of trouble. The explosions and destructions go on and on and on and on (overkill!) and not one of the kids gets a scratch despite running through fireballs and 10 ton debris falling all around them. It looks like a war zone thereafter but their car is also indestructable.
  • All the "what's going on?" withholding is wonderful...until it's not. At some point the audience is supposed to catch up to the story.
  • I used to think J.J. Abrams "lens flare" issues were cute and I didn't understand why they bugged people but MY GOD. Stop with the electric blue horizontal lines ruining so many otherwise pleasant images.
  • The scene where the sheriff tells his deputy to go home and hug his son. Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) can convey so much with so little. He's one of those actors who understands the less is more truism. The deputy knows that this is good advice, but he also knows he's not going to do it.
  • Elle Fanning is positioned to receive the most praise (this happens to obsessed over "love object/muse" roles) and she's quite good in it but the real find here is 15 year old Joel Courtney in the lead role: Such an expressive face, so natural on camera, entirely absent any child-actor showboating tricks and gimmicks.
  • An extended race sequence with massive explosions and tanks and destructive nonsense near the end is entirely useless to the narrative and a sign that the movie is in trouble.
  • The overt sentiment works well when it's calm and focused in the first half but starts to feel like an uncomfortable skin graft toward the finale.
  • As in War of the Worlds, it just falls apart at the end, as the heroes essentially do too little that's heroic other than survive and the storyline just kind of resolves itself lazily. The end.
  • But bonus points for including the amateur zombie movie over the end credits!

Oops. That was way more than 8 notes.
Grade? I'm still mulling that over. It's very uneven.

U.S. Box-Office (Estimates)

01 SUPER 8 new $37
02 X-MEN FIRST CLASS $25 [review] (cumulative $98.8)
03 THE HANGOVER PT. 2  $18.5 (cumulative $216.5)
04 KUNG FU PANDA 2 $16.6 (cumulative $126.9)
05 PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES $10.8 (cumulative $208.7) [review]
06 BRIDESMAIDS $10.1 (cumulative $123.9) ♥
08 MIDNIGHT IN PARIS $6.1 (cumulative $14.2) ♥
09 THOR $2.3 (cumulative $173) [review]
10 FAST FIVE $1.7 (cumulative $205)

What did you see over the weekend?
And if you caught it, how did you feel about Super 8?

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Reader Comments (24)

I haven't seen anything new this weekend, and know I won't see Super8, but I enjoyed your review - and yes, these notes work just as well as a more traditional write-ups; you've told me everything I need to know, and given me an idea as to whether or not I would want to see it, and that's exactly what I want from a movie review. (And this format might give you more time to write about other things - it's a win/win, IMHO.)

That poster is so 1980's - nicely done bit of nostalgia, as they don't really illustrate posters anymore. (What happened to the folks who did that sort of thing for a living? Work must have really dried up for illustration artists in the last 40 years.)

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

As much as I recognized the issues it had, I loved Super 8. Most of the problems I can reason myself into liking, except for those action sequences. When the entire train exploded and all the kids survived, I thought, "This is too much." When they cut to the car and there was NOT ONE SCRATCH, I thought, "COME THE FUCK ON!" Too much. But the acting? Superb!

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWalter

Love the painting! The film reel eyes are an inspired touch.
Pleased to hear that Elle's getting praise. She's been an interesting screen presence since "The Door in the Floor."

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWayne B.

The only thing drawing me to this movie is Elle Fanning, who I fell in love with in Somewhere. Is it worth seeing just for her?

Speaking of Somewhere, I don't remember hearing your thoughts on it, Nathaniel.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDylan

You and I are of two minds about this Nathaniel. I really enjoyed the character building in the first 20 or so minutes of the film, I even really liked the big train crash sequence, which I found pretty intense (the good soundsystem in my favorite local theater probably helped there). But it all started to fall apart when the military showed up...I'll leave it at that to avoid spoilers for anyone who hasn't seen it yet, but I honestly found it to be one of the movies that I just forgot about 20 minutes after I left the theater.
X-Men First Class is the still the best tentpole movie I've seen this summer...which really bums me out, as much as I like the franchise.
Additionally, I suffered through Tree of Life on Friday...I will say this, Brad Pitt deserves another Oscar nomination and the cinematography is beautiful, everything else is a mess.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKyle

I’m behind you about the crash sequence and anything else especially the Acting within Acting by Elle Fanning. I don’t understand why people call this the best of this summer or of the year so far. I mean X-Men is actually a better movie than this Abrams’ love letter to Spielberg.

Btw, I think I read somewhere on this blog where you need to take time to chew tree of Life before you write a review. So I’m not missing your review, right?

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMikhael

I didn't see any new releases, but I was lucky enough to see CARNAL KNOWLEDGE with Mike Nichols Q&A following last night. That was awesome. The latter portions of that movie play like a horror movie.

Meanwhile, of contemporary releases, I'm way behind - I've seen Thor, Tree of Life and X-Men, but no Bridesmaids, Midnight..., Kung Fu Panda 2 or Super 8. I'm going to have to pull an all day marathon soon!!!

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

I find Elle's performance problematic. While she's acting in the film within a film, she's expressive and mature. But when she's just being Alice, she goes from angry to awkward to vacuous to crying awkward. Still don't know what to make of it.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaolo

I agree a lot with your notes Nathaniel, but overall out of the 4 films I've seen this past week or so (X-Men: FC, Bridesmaids, The Tree of Life, and Super 8), I have to say I think I enjoyed Super 8 the most out of all of them. Elle Fanning I've steadily been loving from first seeing her in The Door in the Floor and REALLY loving her after Somewhere, but this she is just perfect and lovely, as was expected. Joel Courtney really took me by surprise though and (hopefully) I see big things in the future for him beyond this movie, he's cute as a button and was just fantastic.
Overall though, I'd say the biggest letdown of the film was the monster itself (without spoiler-ing or anything), which I just thought was kind of generic-looking and really kept me thinking back to Cloverfield...
And yes, MAJOR bonus points to the "monster movie" at the end credits! I was almost-rolling in the theaters, as was the rest of the audience I was with. It easily got the biggest laughs out of the entire movie and was probably one of the best tags at the end of the movie that I've seen in a long, long time.
Also, MORE major bonus points to the two women who sat behind me during the movie and yelled AHHHHHHHH!!!! every time something scary/startling popped up during the movie...which was just hilarious to listen to.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRyan M

I agree with everything you had to say. From the wonderful first half of the film to the mess that is the miiltary parts, "secret monster," and those goddamn motherucking lens flares. The latter especially worked fine on Star Trek, but for this film it was beyond distracting.

Elle Fanning was wonderful, but like you the real find is Joel Courtney. Well done anchoring this film! In terms of what I think of this film relative to other summer films I've seen, it's middle of the pack. Midnight in Paris continues to be my favorite film of the summer so far.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

The last half may have had its problems, but Abrams still knows how to end a movie better than Spielberg (at least the post-Raiders Spielberg). If Spielberg had directed it, it would have had a 15 minute epilogue that would have destroyed the entire film.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

I saw "Super 8" and (rewatched) "Bridesmaids" as a double feature at the drive-in last night. "Super 8" I liked, but sometimes it was waaay too dark for a drive-in film. "Bridesmaids" was still hilarious the second time around.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge P.

I rewatched The King's Speech and Meet The Parents over the weekend. I want to see Super 8, but I might not be able to until it comes out on DVD. The nearest theatre to me is a few hours away. The first movie I saw Elle Fanning in was Somewhere. I thought she was really good in it. I had heard good things about her performance in Phoebe In Wonderland, but it didn't come to my video store.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMeghan

I saw Super 8 and felt mostly the same as you, Nat, except I also liked the train crash. I really loved the chemistry between the kids. It was good nostalgia for me, having come of age with the likes of ET, Goonies, and Gremlins.

But man, that ending was awful. So Spielbergian in the worst way possible.

I also saw Midnight in Paris this weekend which I mostly enjoyed. Must go to Paris.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAR

I have to disagree with the Elle Fanning love train in these comments. I liked the bit where she was "acting," but like Paolo, I thought was especially horrible outside of that scene and one or two others just between her and Joel Courtney. Her screamy introduction in the car and the post-train crash scenes were particularly cringeworthy.

My other main disagreement is about Kyle Chandler. I'd never seen him before this and I was left unimpressed. He seemed generic, lifeless, and his character wholly unnecessary to me. Where you saw him doing "less is more," I just saw him doing nothing.

Otherwise, I agree with you. I was in love with the movie until the train crash (epic disaster yet everyone's fine!). The eyerolls continued on the bus scene and then throughout the final scenes. But despite that, I still enjoyed the movie overall. JJ Abrams cannot write a script without plotholes and ends that are never tied (where the hell did those engines go? why did the dogs run away?), but he is superb at writing good characters that I care about. The kids were amazing and Joel Courtney seemed so natural as Joe. It was also so darn funny, particularly with the technology jokes, as you mentioned. Drugs are sooo bad. I'd give it a B/B- for crafting some magical moments about childhood.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Unfortunately, I didn't see anything. I'm in the midst of moving apartments, so my time was devoted to clearing out junk and packing up my stuff for my upcoming move.

I saw X-Men: First Class when it debuted, but other than that haven't seen anything else at the cinema. :(

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBlinking Cursor

Blinking -- the movies will steel be there when you resurface!

Evan -- [SPOILERS] hmmm. perhaps i am just having spillover from Friday Night LIghts. I didn't think the dogs was a loose end so much as an obvious "running away from the alien who would eat them" thing. But i did think it was hilariosu that the dogs turned up in other towns but nobody ever bothered to retrieve their dogs. Not even the protagonists. Worst dog owning town ever. Nobody cared about their pets!

June 13, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Nathaniel-- good point. I guess that explains why they ran away in all directions. Haha. The distribution just seemed like such a big deal in that one police station scene. As for the engines, I guess they were sucked down into the pit? I wonder why they weren't magnetically attracted to the watertower like other metal things.

But from this and other recent posts, it sounds like I need to see me some Friday Night Lights. I'm perfectly willing to be wooed by Kyle Chandler.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Hanna. I saw Hanna

There're movies that get you to sleep and movies that make you want to do a lot of things, movies that manage to transmit their restlessness. To me, Hanna belongs to the second kind and I'm only able to watch half an hour, maybe 45 minutes of that kind of movies. Beyond that, they annoy the hell out of me and I feel like walking out and going to do the things I left undone. And so I did, sort of. There was a blackout just 4 or 5 minutes before the end. I left and waited outside. I should've known better, but I knew nothing about the movie other than that Ronan played a killer. Apart from that which is admittedly my way of saying this isn't my kind of movie, what was Blanchett doing? I'm not really her biggest fan (I'm one of those who couldn't stand her Hepburn-ish thing) but I think I preferred her in the Crystal Skull, and that's saying a lot.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

Since there is not a thing playing this week, (already saw Beginners...loved it) saw Carey Mulligan in Through A Glass Darkly. AMAZING! Go see this production before the short run is over.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrobo

Regarding SUPER 8, I agree with you on almost every point, Nailthaniel. I was charmed with the first 1/2 hour or so, but got increasingly frustrated and angry the longer it went on. And it went on a L-o-o-o-o-o-n-g time. The only thing that kept me awake were those endless flash cuts when the monster snapped up some cast member. By the time that typical Spielberg family reunion scene ended the picture, I was in pure cynic mode. I didn't even hang around to see the "cute" home movie that floated behind the end credits (I heard about it later). Cheap sentimental crap.

June 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRC

Love, love love your Elle painting, Nathanial!

I finally caught up with Meek's Cutoff on the big-screen this weekend. Adored it. Kelly Reichardt is fast becoming a fave. As for Michelle Williams - she is setting a new benchmark for indie-film muses and isn't anything with Shirley Henderson in it worth a look? I loved the way it was so anti-pictorial. My one regret was not taking a bottle of water into the screening with me - not a film to watch with a dry mouth!!

June 14, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter7Bis

Something funny about the period work you mentioned (and you may have remembered a post from me before), they actually didn't have to do much period changing in the town. I am from Weirton, WV, where the movie was filmed. They cleaned up the downtown area, but overall, the city still looks like that. They changed signs, but overall my hometown still looks like it's from the late 70s/early 80s.

June 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris

My notes, SPOILERS:
- A lot of the "unbelievable" elements (particularly surviving the train crash) should be set aside because it was a sci-fi popcorn movie, and also clearly a kids movie. No kids die in kids movies...!
- Elle Fanning & Joel Courtney were both impressive in their roles.
- The mini-movie in the credits felt far too forced and wasn't very funny.
- The dialogue was kind of distracting, I don't think kids said "awesome", "bitchin" and "mint" in the 70s.
- Those lens flares were annoying, and yeah the monster design was fairly uninspired.
- I'm not sure why there were tanks blowing up the houses in the later scenes - were they "sterilising" the town? Seemed like explosions for the sake of explosions.
- Also, the screeching in the main action scenes hurt my ears - was it just my cinema? Am I getting old?

June 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjack
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